RealTime IT News

Indian ISPs Rushing In as Monopoly Ends

Prospective private ISPs in India's newly liberalised Internet access market are lining up for operations licenses, and some may commence Internet services in as little as two months.

ETH Dishnet, a Sterling Group company, plans to launch services in the cities of Pune and Chennai by January 14. Government telecom agency Mahanagar Telecom Nigam Ltd. (MTNL) may be ready for the Internet service business in the cities of Mumbai and New Delhi on January 26, 1999, according to S. Rajagoplan, managing director of MTNL.

Channai-based Satyam Infoway has also received a national ISP license, and plans to offer Internet access via its datacom network, currently spread across 12 cities: New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Calcutta, Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Kochi, Ludhiana, Coimbatore and Pondichery. Satyam Infoway hopes to extend its Internet reach to about 25 cities by the end of 1999, according to managing director R. Ramaraju.

Reliance Telecom is expected to begin Internet services in the state of Gujarat, and then expand to the national market. Bharti-BT Internet is targeting Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai.

ISPs like ETH are planning to offer low cost access as well as city-specific content with a strong education focus. Other ISPs with content offerings include Satyam inforway, which has a site on Indian music. MTNL also plans to get into the Web site hosting business, and create an online service called Bharat On Line, on the lines of America Online.

Up to a million new users are expected to come online next year. India currently has only 500,000 Internet users, due in part to the government monopoly on the ISP business which was lifted only earlier this month.

Most ISPs are currently targeting the dial-up user market, and are eagerly awaiting the 60-90 per cent rate cuts in leased line charges proposed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

Mumbai-based Global Telesystems is offering a whole host of e-commerce services under the Global Electronic Commerce Services Ltd (GECSL) umbrella. It already has a nationwide fax server network serving 20,000 subscribers, and has entered into agreements with Nortel, GE and Microsoft for Internet services.

Global is launching its services in 12 cities including the four metros and smaller cities like Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Kochi.

Companies based in the U.S. and Singapore are already striking deals with ISPs in India. MTNL has reportedly placed equipment orders with the U.S-based Digital Inc., and Singapore Network Services is entering into Internet backbone agreements in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

Bharti BT Internet, a joint-venture between Bharti Telecom and British Telecom (BT), plans to launch its Internet operations by March 1999. The venture plans to differentiate its services into retail, corporate and small businesses, and also offer intranetworking. Services will be initially launched in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore.

For the device market, the BPL Group plans to launch a range of Net TVs--set-top boxes costing less than Rs. 10,000 (approx. $233). The company recently struck an alliance with Intel to provide the powerful Internet-enabled devices.

Other companies currently in the ISP pipeline or aspiring to enter the market include Sukhkarta Fin Trade, Punjab Wireless Systems, T. S. Associates, Ircon International, Aptech, ACME, Radhika Computer Service, Systems America, and Modi Entertainment.

Momentum is also building for adapting existing Indian laws for the anticipated e-commerce boom, such as the Indian Evidence Act, Negotiable Instruments Act, and the Indian Contract Act, based on the United Nations International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model on Electronic Commerce. Foreign companies like Baker & McKenzie, Jones Day and Greenberg Traurig, and Spectrum Business Support Ltd. are reportedly involved in cyberlaw consultations with commerce ministry officials.